Terrified to Fail

[May 13, 2019] There’s an old axiom that says that soldiers are terrified of war because they are the ones who experience the brunt of the battle. The idea that soldiers are terrified of war, for this reason, is not true. Soldiers fear war because they are scared of letting their buddies down. They are terrified to fail those who depend upon them to do the right thing in combat.

“There are two levers for moving men: interest and fear.” – Napoléon Bonaparte, Emperor of France

Yesterday I wrote an article with ‘motivation’ as the theme.1 Being terrified to fail is an example of those things in life that push us toward a goal. Like most successful people, they have identified something in their lives that they fear; greatly fear. Their fear could be losing their family, getting fired from a job, or being getting an incurable disease.

Being terrified – despite being a vague and misused term – means extreme fear. Fear taken to a high level is to be terrified. We all fear many things and rightly so. That doesn’t mean we are terrified. To lose one’s job will generate fear. To lose one’s family will produce terror.

When a person is terrified to fail, the extreme motivation it creates is hard to describe. It should come as no surprise that the most successful leaders are terrified to fail. Their motivation to succeed overwhelms anything else in their lives. It is the center of their being. It is that which pushes them beyond what a normal person has ever experienced.

A soldier who lets his buddies down in combat believes he will get them injured or killed. This is real terror. I’ve seen combat soldiers go crazy under stress; not of getting themselves killed but getting their buddies killed. They will tell you that they don’t have to like their buddies, but the expectation that they are fully responsible for the lives of their comrades is ingrained so deeply in the psyche; nothing can dislodge it.

Being terrified to fail has its usefulness. However, leaders who attempt to instill this in their subordinates are acting unethically. Terror in the hearts of men is like putting a match to dynamite. The results can be unpredictable and tragic.


  1. Motivation: Shoveling Sh** in Louisiana https://www.theleadermaker.com/motivation-shoveling-sh-in-louisiana/
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

24 thoughts on “Terrified to Fail

  1. Otto Z. Zuckermann

    Enjoyed today’s article. I see there are already a number of great comments that help me understand how the idea can go in different directions. Thanks.

  2. Bryan Lee

    Another great article, Gen. Satterfield. This is why I keep coming back to your leadership blog. I would be so humble as to suggest a couple of future articles:
    1. Ways to become a better senior leader.
    2. Ways to fail quickly as a senior leader.
    Thanks for reading my comments.

    1. Albert Ayer

      Thanks, Gen. Satterfield for responding to Bryan. I’d like to suggest an article on “Things to start your leadership with.”

  3. Mr. T.J. Asper

    I guess that I might be guilty of using the technique a little myself in football practice. I yell at the kids and threaten them (but not with anything terrible). I say they will have to run an extra 4 or 5 laps around the football field if they fail to do what I want. Regardless, it works. Put a little fear into people and that gears up their motivation to do what I want … which is what makes them successful on the playing field.

    1. Max Foster

      I’m glad we have folks like you teaching in High School. Too many of our teachers are craven liberals who want nothing other than to teach political correctness and that the good old USA is the source of all problems around the world. You may be an island of sanity.

    2. Willie Shrumburger

      Keep up the great work with kids, helping make them into stronger and more resilient young adults.

    1. Lynn Pitts

      I loved her book “You’re a badass.” HaHaHaHaHa

  4. Eddie Ray Anderson, Jr.

    Interesting article today that made me think. I’m not so sure of your premise but it got me to thinking that people can be convinced of just about anything if it comes from an ‘expert.’

    1. Tracey Brockman

      “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” by US Pres Abraham Lincoln. Great quote and, of course, very true.

      1. Janna Faulkner

        He was a great president. The US … the world, is a better place for men like him. Too bad idiots in colleges today can’t see beyond their hedonistic noses.

  5. Tomas C. Clooney

    Good article today and so appropriate. Many people fear many things but to allow that fear (or extreme terror) to dictate what we do in this overly-safe society is probably some kind of mental disorder. Of course, psychologists are saying and predicting even more mental disorders. Why? Because a soft culture generates a soft society of people.

  6. Georgie M.

    The global warming ‘scientists’ have been putting out terrorizing-like predictions of what will happen if we don’t curtail the natural-occurring CO2 emissions. Plants, of course, thrive on CO2. Melting icebergs? Okay with me.

    1. Kenny Foster

      This is a favorite political trick. It works well in the West where we live in relatively fear-free communities. It’s pretty easy to get idiots to believe in something — something that must replace religion. Demigod religion and anything is possible.

      1. AutisticTechie

        This says something about our education system and our weaknesses perpetuated by all the wealth. Remember that the upper-class Romans died because they could afford to have running water; it’s just that the running water came in lead pipes that poisoned their brains.

      2. Joe the Aussie

        Kenny, good point. This article by Gen Satterfield says a lot about how our society has run off the rails in so many places. It’s going to be hard to get it back on track. Let’s not have a major problem in the West (esp the USA) that will be our undoing. CHEERS!

        1. Yusaf from Texas

          Pessimistic but, unfortunately, you are probably right Joe. Thanks for helping us keep our minds in the right place.

    2. Martin Shiell

      Doesn’t say much for our mental resilience.

  7. Army Captain

    Hmmmmmm, interesting take on the idea of how a terrified person can be pushed to do just about anything. I think that is one of the techniques of dictators.

    1. Jerry C. Jones

      Good to see you on Gen. Satterfield’s website this morning. Great point too. Thanks.

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